CHARLOTTE – The Ottoman era

The Ottoman eraThose who have little understanding of life in the Middle East watch the current events and wonder about what has happened to the vehicle we call andldquopractice of democracyandrdquo there in the recent months. Revolutions were held, wars have been fought, and in some countries, such as Iraq and Egypt and Turkey, the keys to the vehicle were handed over (but apparently without a manual)!Many Westerners do not realize that the idea of democracy is only in the infant stages in this part of the world, with the Republic of Turkey being the most experienced on the road.

To understand the present, you need to be acquainted with the past and its heritage. The average Westerner has no real understanding of the Ottoman period and Islamic tradition.

During the Ottoman period, every aspect of a personand#39s daily life was not only influenced, but ruled. If not, there were consequences.

One wonders if the days of such times have not only returned, but are here to stay. As local and international news reports, the current situations in Iraq and Syria, some would answer in the affirmative, without any hesitation, but with much regret.

It is frightening to watch on the television reports of the specter of a humanitarian calamity in Iraq towards Yazidis and Christian minorities. Since the American invasion of 2003 in Iraq, the doors have been opened to opportunity — be it democracy or whateverIntelligence now reports that thousands of citizens have traveled to Iraq and Syria as andldquojihadist tourists.

andrdquo It is alarming that sometimes they entered through ports of entry from Turkey to go and provide support to the Islamist insurgency in control of certain parts of Iraq and SyriaPerhaps if more orientation and experience and support with guidance to use the new andldquovehicleandrdquo had been provided before handing over the keys, the situation would be different. But on the other hand, there comes a time when one needs to take responsibility.

The idea of democracy is new to the Middle East. Before introducing democracy in the region — confederations, emirates, dictatorships, monarchies and, of course, the 600-plus years of Ottoman reign were practiced or, shall we say, imposed.

To understand the current trends, you need to be familiar with Ottoman history, and no better scholar can do this than Norman Itzkowitz, an Ottoman scholar who points out in his book andldquoOttoman Empire and Islamic Traditionandrdquo that the history of the Turkic peoples in Anatolia develops from the Oghuz confederation to emirates and then to empire.Itzkowitz explains how the Seljuks, a Turkish Sunni Muslim dynasty, andldquostarted as military bands hired by Muslim princes and soon emerged as governors of provinces, and eventually became autonomous rulers of vast areas.

andrdquo Baghdad had been the seat of the caliphate, but it fell to them in 1055. This was, Itzkowitz states, the start of High Islam and its twin pillars of orthodoxy and taxation.

Those of us who have been raised elsewhere than the Middle East are familiar with other governing styles: In the West, the Athenians and Romans gave us democracy and the city state. The founding fathers of America defined government as being of the people, by the people, for the people.

Many kings and queens in Europe believed in absolute monarchy — their divine right to rule — until some of them lost their lives in revolution. The Bolsheviks, on the other hand, espoused communism Islam has been embraced and practiced by the majority in the Middle East for centuries.

The idea of democracy is one of complete contrast to that of Islam Islam functions not only as a religion but also serves as a social structure and form of government impacting oneand#39s worliew and religious views in particular Westerners tend to overlook the fact that the choice of model for a nationand#39s government and social order is often inextricably linked with their view of God.Letand#39s not forget that it was not that long ago during the Cold War we had a stand-off between on one side the United States — andldquoone nation under Godandrdquo — and on the other, the Soviet Union, which upheld the teachings of Marx that andldquoreligion is the opiate of the people.

andrdquoThe only quotation many foreigners know about the Ottoman Empire is andldquosick man of Europeandrdquo — an epithet applied to it by its enemy Tsar Nicholas II. But in 1603 the English historian Richard Knolles less famously called it andldquothe present terror of the world.

andrdquoIt seems that what Knolles describes of the past is what is happening in the present before our eyes.